Thursday, May 28, 2009

Residents seethe as Pakistan army destroys homes

SULTANWAS, Pakistan – When Pakistan's army drove the Taliban back from this small northwestern village, it also destroyed much of everything else here.

F-16 fighter jets, military helicopters, tanks and artillery reduced houses, mosques and shops to rubble, strewn with children's shoes, shattered TV sets and perfume bottles.

Commanders say the force was necessary in an operation they claim killed 80 militants. But returning residents do not believe this: Although a burned-out army tank at the entrance to Sultanwas indicates the Taliban fought back, villagers say most fighters fled into the mountains.

Beyond any doubt is their fury at authorities for wrecking their homes — the sort of backlash the army doesn't want as it tries to win the support of the people for its month-old offensive against the Taliban in Pakistan's northwest frontier region near the border with Afghanistan.

Beyond any doubt is their fury at authorities for wrecking their homes — just what the army does not want as it tries to win the support of the people for its month-old offensive against the Taliban in Pakistan's northwest frontier region near the border with Afghanistan.

"The Taliban never hurt the poor people, but the government has destroyed everything," Sher Wali Khan told the first reporting team to reach the village of about 1,000 homes.

"They are treating us like the enemy," he said as he collected shredded copies of a Quran from the ruins of a mosque.

The anger in this village is an echo of recent years, when previous army offensives against the Taliban in the northwestern frontier area caused widespread civilian casualties and damage to homes. The military's heavy-handed approach here shows it may still be more equipped to fight conventional war with India than guerrilla warfare in the shadows of mountain villages and towns, where militants use civilians as cover.

The Associated Press traveled to Sultanwas on Wednesday after the Pakistani army briefly lifted a curfew in the Buner district to allow residents to return.

But the fight for the region is clearly not over. Just beyond the village, a makeshift army checkpoint shows where its control ends. Beyond that, the army and villagers say the Taliban are in charge, patrolling streets on foot and in pickup trucks.

The United States wants a resounding victory against insurgents who are threatening not only the stability of this nuclear-armed country, but also the success of the American-led mission in neighboring Afghanistan.

The army launched its operation in April to take back the northwest after the militants lost popular support across the region partly because of their defiance of a peace deal with the government. The Taliban have also carried out atrocities in the northwest and claimed responsibility for attacks that have killed hundreds of civilians elsewhere in Pakistan.

But residents of Sultanwas say the militants in their village threatened no one.

Khan, a 17-year-old who is quick with a smile and hopes to attend medical school, said about five militants occasionally came to a mosque. There, he said, they preached an ultraconservative brand of Islam and called for overthrowing the government because it was not implementing Islamic law. He said he did not agree with either position.

Khan fled with his family and most other residents when the army warned them last week to get out because the offensive was about to reach them.

The Taliban entered Buner last month from the Swat Valley, an advance that triggered the military's offensive. There was very little damage to buildings in the road leading to Sultanwas, which military officials said used to be one of the Taliban's major strongholds in the district.

The army says it is making every effort to avoid damaging buildings in the offensive. Reporters on a military-escorted trip to part of the Swat Valley last week saw no significant destruction.

But the army used helicopters, F-16 jets, tanks and artillery in the battle for Sultanwas. While the military says this tactic reduces army casualties by "softening up" areas before troops move in, critics question its effectiveness against a small and, for the most part, lightly armed insurgent force moving in and out of towns.

Khan and others insisted the militants were not living in their homes either before or after the attack.

There were no bodies, blood or obviously buried corpses in the rubble, which spans an area the size of two football fields, roughly a third of the village. A reporter could find no sign any rebels had dug in there or used the area as a base. Residents said the same.

"When the operation started, the Taliban all ran away from the area," said Rosi Khan, citing an account from the only three villagers who he said stayed behind. He could not say where those villagers are now.

Spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said fleeing villagers had told military officials that militants were using Khan's house and others nearby. He said 80 insurgents were killed in the operation, and that other militants apparently removed their bodies.

But two officers involved in the Buner operations said most of the roughly 400 fighters believed to be there escaped to the mountains — terrain they know far better than do army troops trucked in from elsewhere in Pakistan. The two officers spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to give information to reporters.

It is a pattern the military says the outgunned and outnumbered militants are following elsewhere in the region, including in the main Swat Valley city of Mingora.

A defense attache for a Western embassy said the Swat operation appeared to be better organized and more coordinated than earlier ones in the northwest. But he questioned whether the 15,000 troops deployed against roughly 4,000 militants were enough to secure the region.

Besides Swat, Pakistan needs to keep troops elsewhere in the border region where al-Qaida and other militants are strong. But most of its roughly 700,000-member army is stationed on or close to the border with India, the country's traditional rival.

To claim victory, the government will have to ensure the militants do not return to the Swat Valley and Buner, and that the 2.4 million people who fled the fighting stay on the government's side when they come home.

The army is appealing for refugees to return to Sultanwas, but as elsewhere in Buner, few were heeding the call.

A week after the battle for this village ended, there was still no police, electricity or civilian administration.

"The political leadership is not here, there is no police," said a senior army officer, who asked not be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media. "How can you expect them to return?"

An AP photographer saw several people looting food and drinks from a damaged store in Sultanwas. They stopped only when other villagers reprimanded them.

At a checkpoint in Sultanwas, young men riding in buses from Taliban-controlled Pir Baba were ordered to lift their shirts and be searched, but there was little sign they were making serious checks of all those leaving the area.

In Pir Baba, Taliban fighters armed with rocket launchers and assault rifles are patrolling the streets, said Mohammed Yusuf, a 50-year-old farmer who was leaving but intended to return after buying vegetables at the nearest open market, several miles away.

"They are on the streets in the morning and evening," Yusuf said. "They are friendly. Some of them I know from my area."

Must We Rule by the Law of Allah?

Chevron, Shell and the True Cost of Oil

By Amy GoodmanMay 27, 2009 "TruthDig" - -- The economy is a shambles, unemployment is soaring, the auto industry is collapsing. But profits are higher than ever at oil companies Chevron and Shell. Yet across the globe, from the Ecuadorian jungle, to the Niger Delta in Nigeria, to the courtrooms and streets of New York and San Ramon, Calif., people are fighting back against the world's oil giants.Shell and Chevron are in the spotlight this week, with shareholder meetings and a historic trial being held.On May 13, the Nigerian military launched an assault on villages in that nation's oil-rich Niger Delta. Hundreds of civilians are feared killed in the attack. According to Amnesty International, a celebration in the delta village of Oporoza was attacked. An eyewitness told the organization: "I heard the sound of aircraft; I saw two military helicopters, shooting at the houses, at the palace, shooting at us. We had to run for safety into the forest. In the bush, I heard adults crying, so many mothers could not find their children; everybody ran for their life."Shell is facing a lawsuit in U.S. federal court, Wiwa v. Shell, based on Shell's alleged collaboration with the Nigerian dictatorship in the 1990s in the violent suppression of the grass-roots movement of the Ogoni people of the Niger Delta. Shell exploits the oil riches there, causing displacement, pollution and deforestation. The suit also alleges that Shell helped suppress the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People and its charismatic leader, Ken Saro-Wiwa. Saro-Wiwa had been the writer of the most famous soap opera in Nigeria, but decided to throw his lot in with the Ogoni, whose land near the Niger Delta was crisscrossed with pipelines. The children of Ogoniland did not know a dark night, living beneath the flame-apartment-building-size gas flares that burned day and night, and that are illegal in the U.S.I interviewed Saro-Wiwa in 1994. He told me: "The oil companies like military dictatorships, because basically they can cheat with these dictatorships. The dictatorships are brutal to people, and they can deny the human rights of individuals and of communities quite easily, without compunction." He added, "I am a marked man." Saro-Wiwa returned to Nigeria and was arrested by the military junta. On Nov. 10, 1995, after a kangaroo show trial, Saro-Wiwa was hanged with eight other Ogoni activists.In 1998, I traveled to the Niger Delta with journalist Jeremy Scahill. A Chevron executive there told us that Chevron flew troops from Nigeria's notorious mobile police, the "kill ‘n' go," in a Chevron company helicopter to an oil barge that had been occupied by nonviolent protesters. Two protesters were killed, and many more were arrested and tortured.Oronto Douglas, one of Saro-Wiwa's lawyers, told us: "It is very clear that Chevron, just like Shell, uses the military to protect its oil activities. They drill and they kill."Chevron is the second-largest stakeholder (after French oil company Total) of the Yadana natural gas field and pipeline project, based in Burma (which the military junta renamed Myanmar). The pipeline provides the single largest source of income to the military junta, amounting to close to $1 billion in 2007. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, popularly elected the leader of Burma in 1990, has been under house arrest for 14 of the past 20 years, and is standing trial again this week. [On Tuesday the government said it had ended the house arrest of Suu Kyi, but she remains in detention pending the outcome of the trial.] The U.S. government has barred U.S. companies from investing in Burma since 1997, but Chevron has a waiver, inherited when it acquired the oil company Unocal.Chevron's litany of similar abuses, from the Philippines to Kazakhstan, Chad-Cameroon, Iraq, Ecuador and Angola and across the U.S. and Canada, is detailed in an "alternative annual report" prepared by a consortium of nongovernmental organizations and is being distributed to Chevron shareholders at this week's annual meeting, and to the public at is being investigated by New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo about whether the company was "accurate and complete" in describing potential legal liabilities. It enjoys, though, a long tradition of hiring politically powerful people. Condoleezza Rice was a longtime director of the company (there was even a supertanker named after her), and the recently hired general counsel is none other than disgraced Pentagon lawyer William J. Haynes, who advocated for "harsh interrogation techniques," including waterboarding. Gen. James L. Jones, President Barack Obama's national security adviser, sat on the Chevron board of directors for most of 2008, until he received his high-level White House appointment.Saro-Wiwa said before he died, "We are going to demand our rights peacefully, nonviolently, and we shall win." A global grass-roots movement is growing to do just that.Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

China Is Now in Firm Control of U.S. Debt Markets

It is hilarious listening to the propagandists try to “spin” the events in bond and currency markets to make it sound like the U.S. government is still operating from a position of strength.
While there are many Western, corporate-media outlets spouting such drivel, I'll use the Financial Times as my example.“China stuck in dollar trap”, crows FT on May 24th. Then, later “...[Beijing] has little choice but to keep pouring the bulk of its growing reserves into the U.S. Treasury”.
What somehow escaped this “analysis” by FT is that China won't touch any U.S. dollar asset except Treasury bonds. The monthly flows of capital into (or out of) the U.S., which is known as the Treasury Department's “TIC” report, tell a clear story.
So far, in the three months of data which have been reported for this year (Jan., Feb., March), the net result was an outflow of capital from the U.S. totaling $211.4 billion.
Does this number suggest China is “trapped” into buying U.S. debt?
The March number is slightly more instructive. This marks the beginning of the newest propaganda-offensive from the U.S. corporate media in asserting (yet again) that the U.S. economy was starting to “recover”. This was epitomized by U.S. court-jester Ben Bernanke prancing around, braying about “green shoots”.
In March, the TIC inflow into the U.S. was a paltry $23.2 billion. However, net purchases of U.S. Treasuries totaled $47.9 billion – meaning the net results for all other categories of U.S. debt was yet another outflow of $24.7 billion.
About the only useful piece of information in the Financial Times' propaganda was to note that China was only purchasing short-term Treasuries. This is highly significant for two reasons.
First, the shorter-term Treasuries are the most-liquid form of U.S. debt. It's no surprise that China is choosing only these types of Treasuries, since it is currently on a commodities buying-spree – which it is financing with U.S. Treasuries. In other words, while China may be a net buyer of U.S. Treasuries in relation to its transactions with the U.S., on a global basis, China is spending its U.S. dollar holdings at least as fast as it is accumulating them. Does this look like China is “trapped”?
The second important point about China's focus on short-term Treasuries is that this does very little to help the U.S. fund its gigantic, out-of-control deficits. The focus by China (and most other foreign buyers) on short-term Treasuries means that not only is the U.S. being forced to dump the largest glut of new Treasuries in history on this already-saturated market, but it is also being forced to try to “roll-over” additional, huge amounts each month as the short-term Treasuries mature.
Does this support the ludicrous assertion by FT (and others) that China “is helping Washington fund its growing budget deficit”?
How exactly will the U.S. “fund” a deficit certain to exceed $2 TRILLION (just in the current fiscal-year) with an outflow of more than $200 billion so far this year?
The ultimate rebuttal to the nonsense of the propagandists is to simply note what is happening in markets. Since the U.S. bond-bubble hit its peak late last year, U.S. Treasuries have already plunged a sickening 30% (see “U.S. Bond Bubble Bursts – bye-bye Equities Rally”).
Meanwhile, the U.S. dollar just hit its lowest level of the year. A look at this horrific chart suggests that the plunge of the dollar is much closer to the beginning than the end.
It is not China which is “trapped”. It is the U.S. government. Trapped by years of lies and statistical “padding” of its declining economy. Trapped by years of grossly over-spending. Trapped by the self-destructive machinations of the U.S. financial crime syndicate, which runs the U.S. government in all but name.
When China runs out of things to buy with its U.S. Treasuries, it will stop accumulating them – period! Instead, it will channel its huge budget surpluses into infrastructure development and other internal uses: for a huge economy which is still in the infancy of its development.
This is the story which the Financial Times should have writtenn.

Somalia: Sheikh Aweys takes over chairmanship of Mujahideen

The leader of the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys has taken over the leadership of Hisbul Islam Mujahideen group on Tuesday.

Dr. Omar Iman (left) said he handed over the chairmanship of the group to Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys (right) and added the group agreed the issue.

Sheikh Aweys, who spoke to the reporters, said he accepted the leadership of Hisbul Islam and welcomed it.

It is not known the reason behind the decision of why Dr. Omar Iman handed over the power of the Mujahideen group.

Hisbul Islam comprises four Mujahideen groups and it was formed after the Somali puppet parliament elected Sheikh Sharif Sheik Ahmed as the puppet president of Somalia.

Hisbul Islam is allied with al-Shabaab and they are jointly fighting against the Somali fragile government.

Meanwhile, Sheikh Ali Dheere is appointed the official spokesman of Shabaab al Mujahideen

On Thursday, May 21, 2009, the Supreme Council of Shabaab al Mujahidin appointed Sheikh Ali Mahmud Ragi known as Sheikh Ali Dheere, formerly the ruler of the Islamic State in the central regions of Somalia, as the official spokesman for Shabaab al Mujahideen - the Asra Army of Somalia. Sheikh Ali Dheere succeeds Shaykh Mukhtar Ribow Ali Abu Mansur - may Allah protect him.

Sheikh Abu Mansur - may Allah protect him - held the position for more than two years and worked very well. For this he enjoys the respect and love of Muslims around the world.

NYT's Pentagon Propaganda

Misleading report on Guantánamo and terrorism5/27/09While former Vice President Dick Cheney has been front and center in the media debate over the current White House's national security policies, he's not the only one trying to challenge the White House's message. The New York Times published a front-page article (5/21/09) that bolstered the notion that former Guantánamo prisoners "return" to terrorist activity.The remarkably credulous Times story, under the headline "1 in 7 Freed Detainees Rejoins Fight, Report Finds," was based on a Pentagon report leaked to the paper before its release yesterday evening. The article emphasized the notion that former prisoners "returned to terrorism or militant activity"--without adequately explaining the definition of either term, or examining whether those former detainees were ever "terrorists" in the first place.And as Talking Points Memo has noted (5/26/09), the Times' front-page headline claiming that "1 in 7" detainees had returned to the fight glossed over the DOD's own distinction between "confirmed" and "suspected" cases.And missing from Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller's account was a full explanation of the Pentagon's long history of releasing similar studies, which have been widely challenged and debunked. Attorney H. Candace Gorman, who represents some Guantánamo detainees, has challenged the Pentagon's findings (Huffington Post, 3/13/07), as has journalist and terrorism analyst Peter Bergen (CNN, 1/24/09). As one prominent critic, Mark Denbeaux of Seton Hall, explained (Washington Independent, 1/23/09):
Every time they have been required to identify the parties, the DOD has been forced to retract their false IDs and their numbers. They have included people who have never even set foot in Guantánamo--much less were they released from there. They have counted people as "returning to the fight" for their having written an op-ed piece in the New York Times and for their having appeared in a documentary exhibited at the Cannes Film Festival. The DOD has revised and retracted their internally conflicting definitions, criteria, and their numbers so often that they have ceased to have any meaning--except as an effort to sway public opinion by painting a false portrait of the supposed dangers of these men.The Times quoted Denbeaux deep in its May 21 piece, but those comments failed to convey the serious problems with the Pentagon's previous reports on Guantánamo.More fundamentally, can the Times be sure that the Pentagon knows that the detainees were ever "terrorists" to begin with? As Denbeaux explained in one report (12/10/07 [PDF]), "Implicit in the Government's claim that detainees have 'returned to the battlefield' is the notion that those detainees had been on a battlefield prior to their detention in Guantánamo." He concluded, based on reviewing the Pentagon's own Combatant Status Review Tribunal records, that just 4 percent of the available summaries "alleged that a detainee had ever been on any battlefield." Only one detainee was actually captured by U.S. forces on a battlefield. And, of course, fighting U.S. forces on a battlefield is not in itself an act of "terrorism."Even Bumiller seemed to distance herself from some of the language in her piece. Appearing on MSNBC (5/21/09), she noted that "there is some debate about whether you should say 'returned' because some of them were perhaps not engaged in terrorism, as we know--some of them are being held there on vague charges." The Times went on to make significant changes to the report on its website (TPM Muckraker, 5/21/09). The new headline is "Later Terror Link Cited for 1 in 7 Freed Detainees," and the piece reported that the former detainees "are engaged in terrorism or militant activity"--as opposed to "returned to terrorism or militant activity."Times Washington bureau chief Dean Baquet (Politico, 5/21/09) responded by arguing that the changes were not all that significant:
The story was about the estimate of the number of people who ended up, by DOD's account, as being engaged in terrorism or militant activity after leaving Gitmo. That still stands. The change was an acknowledgment that some assert that not everyone in Gitmo is truly a terrorist. Some critics have said that Gitmo is also filled with people who aren't truly terrorists.This is disingenuous, at the very least. The story was about people "returning" to the "fight," based on the latest in a series of misleading and contradictory Pentagon reports on the topic--which should have led the Times to treat the leak with more skepticism in the first place. The paper noted in the article that the report's "conclusion could strengthen the arguments of critics who have warned against the transfer or release of any more detainees as part of President Obama's plan to shut down the prison by January." That is precisely the effect it had (conservative MSNBC host Joe Scarborough gave the paper a "tip of the hat"--5/21/09), thanks entirely to the way the Times mishandled the story.ACTION:Ask New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt to examine the way the Times handled its May 21 story about the Pentagon's claims regarding Guantánamo detainees. Did the paper's original report do enough to challenge the Pentagon's claims? And do the paper's subsequent changes to the story warrant some explanation to readers?CONTACT:Clark HoytPublic Editor, New York Times212-556-7652 public@nytimes.comPlease leave a copy of your messages to the New York Times public editor in the comments thread of this FAIR Blog post.

TTP claims Lahore bombing, threatens more attacks

From Dawn News:

Thursday, 28 May, 2009 | 06:02 PM PST

PESHAWAR: Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility on Thursday for a suicide gun and bomb attack in Lahore the previous day that killed 26 people and wounded over 100.

‘We have achieved our target. We were looking for this target for a long time. It was a reaction to the Swat operation,’ Hakimullah Mehsud, a militant commander and deputy to TTP chief Baitullah Mehsud, told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location, referring to an army offensive in the Swat region.

Hakimullah Mehsud threatened similar attacks in other Pakistani cities, the BBC reported.

‘Residents should leave the cities of Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore and Multan,’ he was quoted by the BBC as saying.

Another group calling itself the Tehrik-i-Taliban Punjab also claimed responsibility for the attack.

The group took the blame in a Turkish-language communique posted on Turkish militant websites through an organisation called Elif Media on Wednesday, the SITE Intelligence Group said.

The SITE cited the group as saying the attack ‘targeted the ‘nest of evil’ in Lahore, and was a ‘humble gift’ to the mujahideen who suffer beneath the attacks of Pakistani forces in Swat.’

It specified that a vehicle laden with 100 kilos of explosives was blown up outside a security building in Lahore, the capital of Punjab province in Pakistan, destroying the building and injuring hundreds more.

‘Tehrik-i-Taliban Punjab asks Muslims in Pakistan to stay away from areas where the enemy is ‘taking advantage’ of them, so that they are not harmed by jihadi attacks,’ SITE added.

The claim could not be verified, and the militant group's relationship to the Taliban was unclear.

Meanwhile, a top Pakistani security official said that while a similar claim emerged over a Shia mosque bombing that killed 22 people on April 5, investigators believed no such organisation exists.

‘It is merely a deception. It is an extension of Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP) of Waziristan,’ the security official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

‘TTP wants terrorists to strike in Punjab but does not have an organisational structure — Tehrik-i-Taliban in Punjab. There is no independent group like this,’ said the security official.

The blast was the third deadly attack to rock Lahore in as many months.

A senior investigator told AFP the attack was the likely handiwork of Al-Qaeda linked Taliban militants operating from Pakistan’s Waziristan region.

One of the attackers was shot dead by security guards as he approached the building, and two others perished in the explosion, the investigator said.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

In memory Innocent's killed in Iraq and Afghanistan

Iraq since 2003 : 4,301 dead & 31,285 wounded U.S. soldiers

By The Associated Press The Associated Press Tue May 26, 7:44 pm ET

As of Tuesday, May 26, 2009, at least 4,301 members of the U.S. military had died in the Iraq war since it began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

The figure includes eight military civilians killed in action. At least 3,446 military personnel died as a result of hostile action, according to the military's numbers.

The AP count is two fewer than the Defense Department's tally, last updated Tuesday at 10 a.m. EDT.

The British military has reported 179 deaths; Italy, 33; Ukraine, 18; Poland, 21; Bulgaria, 13; Spain, 11; Denmark, seven; El Salvador, five; Slovakia, four; Latvia and Georgia, three each; Estonia, Netherlands, Thailand and Romania, two each; and Australia, Hungary, Kazakhstan and South Korea, one death each.

Since the start of U.S. military operations in Iraq, 31,285 U.S. service members have been wounded in hostile action, according to the Defense Department's weekly tally.


The latest deaths reported by the military:

• A soldier died Monday from wounds suffered in an explosion on the eastern outskirts of Fallujah.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Cap and Trade - the next Wall Street hustle - a must understand for all

4 Corners - Somalia

Army chief says US ready to be in Iraq 10 years

WASHINGTON – The Pentagon is prepared to leave fighting forces in Iraq for as long as a decade despite an agreement between the United States and Iraq that would bring all American troops home by 2012, the top U.S. Army officer said Tuesday.

Gen. George Casey, the Army chief of staff, said the world remains dangerous and unpredictable, and the Pentagon must plan for extended U.S. combat and stability operations in two wars. "Global trends are pushing in the wrong direction," Casey said. "They fundamentally will change how the Army works."

He spoke at an invitation-only briefing to a dozen journalists and policy analysts from Washington-based think-tanks. He said his planning envisions combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan for a decade as part of a sustained U.S. commitment to fighting extremism and terrorism in the Middle East.

Casey's calculations about force levels are related to his attempt to ease the brutal deployment calendar that he said would "bring the Army to its knees."

Casey would not specify how many combat units would be split between Iraq and Afghanistan. He said U.S. ground commander Gen. Ray Odierno is leading a study to determine how far U.S. forces could be cut back in Iraq and still be effective. Casey said his comments about the long war in Iraq were not meant to conflict with administration policies.

President Barack Obama plans to bring U.S. combat forces home from Iraq in 2010, and the United States and Iraq have agreed that all American forces would leave by 2012. Although several senior U.S. officials have suggested Iraq could request an extension, the legal agreement the two countries signed last year would have to be amended for any significant U.S. presence to remain.

As recently as February, Defense Secretary Robert Gates reiterated the U.S. commitment to the agreement worked out with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

"Under the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government, I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011," Gates said during an address at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. "We will complete this transition to Iraqi responsibility, and we will bring our troops home with the honor that they have earned."

The United States currently has about 139,000 troops in Iraq and 52,000 in Afghanistan.

Obama campaigned on ending the Iraq war as quickly as possible and refocusing U.S. resources on what he called the more important fight in Afghanistan.

That will not mean a major influx of U.S. fighting forces on the model of the Iraq "surge," however. Obama has agreed to send about 21,000 combat forces and trainers to Afghanistan this year. Combined with additional forces approved before former President George W. Bush left office, the United States is expected to have about 68,000 troops in Afghanistan by the end of this year. That's about double the total at the end of 2008, but Obama's top military and civilian advisers have indicated the number is unlikely to grow much beyond that.

Casey said several times that he wasn't the person making policy, but the military was preparing to have a fighting force deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan for years to come. Casey said his planning envisions 10 combat brigades plus command and support forces committed to the two wars.

When asked whether the Army had any measurement for knowing how big it should be, Casey responded, "How about the reality scenario?"

This scenario, he said, must take into account that "we're going to have 10 Army and Marine units deployed for a decade in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Casey stressed that the United States must be ready to take on sustained fights in the Middle East while meeting other commitments.

Casey reiterated statements made by civilian and military leaders that the situation in Afghanistan would get worse before it gets better. "There's going to be a big fight in the South," he said.

Casey added that training of local police and military in Afghanistan was at least a couple years behind the pace in Iraq, and it would be months before the U.S. deployed enough trainers. There's a steeper curve before training could be effective in Afghanistan, requiring three to five years before Afghanis could reach the "tipping point" of control.

He also said the U.S. had to be careful about what assets get deployed to Afghanistan. "Anything you put in there would be in there for a decade," he said.

As Army chief of staff, Casey is primarily responsible for assembling the manpower and determining assignments. He insisted the Army's 1.1-million size was sufficient even to handle the extended Mideast conflicts.

"We ought to build a pretty effective Army with 1.1 million strength," Casey said. He also noted that the Army's budget had grown to $220 billion from $68 billion before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

He said the Army is two-thirds of the way through a complete overhaul from the Cold War-era force built around tanks and artillery to today's terrorist-driven realities. The Army has become more versatile and quicker by switching from division-led units to brigade-level command.

Casey said the Army has moved from 15-month battlefield deployments to 12 months. His goal is to move rotations by 2011 to one year in the battlefield and two years out for regular Army troops, and one year in the battlefield and three years out for reserves. He called the current one-year-in-one-year-out cycle "unsustainable."

France's first Gulf military base

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – French President Nicolas Sarkozy opened his nation's first military base in the Gulf Tuesday, boosting the naval presence along strategic oil routes and in pirate-infested waters off the Somali coast.

The new naval base outside the United Arab Emirates' capital, Abu Dhabi, is France's first major foreign military installation since the 1960s and its first outside Africa. It is expected help safeguard vital Persian Gulf shipping lanes. It also puts France in position to play a higher profile role in calming the growing tensions between Iran and Gulf Arab states.

Some of the most pressing missions, however, may come off the coast of Somalia. Pirates have expanded their assaults on ships in the Gulf of Aden farther into the Indian Ocean. Somali pirates have attacked more than 80 ships this year alone in the Gulf of Aden, and successfully hijacked about 30 of them.

The United States remains the major foreign military presence in the Persian Gulf with key air bases, logistics operations and the headquarters of the 5th Fleet in Bahrain.

At a ceremony Tuesday, Sarkozy watched the French and UAE flags being raised over the naval base as forces from both nations stood at attention.

France is also seeking a bigger role in the region's culture and business.

Sarkozy's two-day trip includes a visit to the future site of a branch of the Louvre. The arm of the French art museum will be part of a cultural and residential district being built in Abu Dhabi. The city also hosts a branch of France's Sorbonne University, and is set to receive outposts of New York University and the Guggenheim Museum.

In light of all these new projects, Sarkozy called the oil-rich UAE "a laboratory for globalization." He is pushing a deal for the UAE to purchase twin-engined Rafale fighter jets and supports the Emirates' push to develop civilian nuclear power plants.

"Nuclear power is not the sole prerogative of Western states," Sarkozy said.

President Barack Obama approved plans for the U.S. to help the UAE become the first Arab nation with a nuclear power industry last week, though Congress could still try to block the deal. U.S. companies are expected to compete against ones from France, Japan and Russia for a share of the $41 billion project.

In a speech to French military personnel and diplomats, Sarkozy also focused on the importance of economic stability, urging oil-rich nations and industrial powers to work to stabilize world oil prices. He noted that the global economy cannot afford major price swings while it works to recover from the economic downturn.

Sarkozy did not give a target price range, but he said he wanted to work with the Emirates, an OPEC member, and others to lower volatility in oil markets.

The French president said high prices undermine growth, but low prices "sow the seeds" of future shocks by discouraging investment in other investment technologies, including nuclear power.

Oil prices have rebounded significantly from lows near $30 a barrel earlier this year, but remain about 60 percent below the record $147 level they hit last July. Crude now sells at about $60 a barrel — above the level the UAE needs to balance its budget but below what some fellow OPEC members consider to be a fair price.

Sarkozy's visit also sought to forge strategic commercial alliances between one of Abu Dhabi's government-backed investment vehicles and France's newly created strategic investment fund.

Trapped civilians face catastrophe in Swat: HRW

From Dawn News : 05/26/2009

ISLAMABAD: Thousands of civilians trapped in Pakistan's northwest where the military is pounding Taliban insurgents face ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ unless help reaches them soon, a rights watchdog said Tuesday.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said people were living with scant food and water in regions of the rugged northwest where security forces are bombarding Taliban militants in a push to extinguish their two-year insurgency.

‘People trapped in the Swat conflict zone face a humanitarian catastrophe unless the Pakistani military immediately lifts a curfew that has been in place continuously for the last week,’ said Brad Adams, the group's Asia director.

‘The government cannot allow the local population to remain trapped without food, clean water and medicine as a tactic to defeat the Taliban.’ It urged Islamabad to lift a curfew in the under-siege Swat valley and nearby districts of the North West Frontier Province. The military launched their offensive in Lower Dir on April 26, Buner on April 28 and Swat on May 8.

Reports of civilians killed in the crossfire continued to flood in, the group said, as people break the curfew in desperate bids to find food and water for their families, or try and escape the aerial and ground bombardments.

‘The Pakistani government should take all possible measures, including airdrops of food, water and medicine to quickly alleviate large-scale human suffering in Swat,’ said Adams.

Fleeing civilians have said that the price of goods in the conflict zones is soaring ten-fold, while medical assistance was almost impossible as hospitals had shut their doors and doctors had fled the conflict zone.

‘Dead bodies lay unburied and the critically injured faced likely death as all medical facilities in the valley had shut down and medicines were unavailable,’ the group's statement said.

Beheadings of civilians at the hands of Taliban insurgents also continued, the group said, while Human Rights Watch said they had reports of 30 civilians killed in military strikes.

Pakistan's military has said it is taking all possible measures to avoid civilian casualties. They have not released any figures for such deaths.

The military says nearly 1,160 militants and 69 soldiers have died in the current offensive, but those tolls cannot be confirmed independently.

Troops entered the Swat capital Mingora on Saturday and are currently fighting to regain control of the Taliban-held town, raising fears of more civilian deaths as the battles move from mountainous regions to urban areas.

US says roadside bomb in Iraq kills 3 Americans

BAGHDAD – A roadside bomb struck a U.S. convoy in western Iraq, killing three Americans, including a State Department employee, the U.S. military said Tuesday.

The blast killed a U.S. soldier, a State Department official and a civilian contractor working for the Defense Department as their convoy headed through Fallujah to a nearby construction site on Monday, the military said. Two others were wounded.

Insurgents once held sway over the western province of Anbar, which was the scene of some of the deadliest fighting of the war. But violence fell off dramatically after Sunni fighters turned on al-Qaida in Iraq and joined U.S. forces in what has become known in Iraq as "the Awakening."

Insurgents, though, have continued to sporadically target American and Iraqi security forces in Fallujah, where four Blackwater employees were ambushed in 2004 by insurgents and their remains strung from a bridge.

The U.S. military has withdrawn from most of the cities in the vast Anbar province, including Fallujah.

Like many cities in Iraq, Fallujah has a number of U.S.-supported reconstruction projects, many of them aimed at improving essential services and promoting businesses.

American military and government officials see the projects as essential to helping maintain security gains. Some of the projects are overseen by provisional reconstruction teams and a joint U.S. civil-military office. Others are directed by the State Department's U.S. Agency for International Development.

The military said the identities of those killed in Monday's bombing were being withheld pending notification of next of kin.

As of Monday, at least 4,301 members of the U.S. military had died in the Iraq war since it began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

3 US troops killed in suicide blast in Afghanistan

KABUL – A suicide bomber rammed an explosives-rigged car into a military convoy on Tuesday, killing three American soldiers and three Afghan civilians in eastern Afghanistan.

The attack against the American convoy came in eastern Kapisa province, an stronghold of insurgents loyal to the Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

"I was driving my motorbike when I saw the car with a young man with a beard and white cap," said Sayed Najibullah, a 22-year-old shopkeeper.

Najibullah said he heard the explosion minutes after the man, in a Toyota Corolla, waved him past.

Three U.S. troops were killed in the explosion, said Tech. Sgt. Chuck Marsh, a U.S. military spokesman. The soldiers served with NATO's International Security Assistance Force.

Three civilians also died and two others were wounded, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

Taliban regularly use suicide attackers and roadside bombs in assaults on foreign and Afghan troops across the country. Such attacks were up 25 percent the first four months of 2009 compared with the same period last year.

Bomb attacks will rise 50 percent this year to 5,700 — up from 3,800 last year, U.S. military officials predict.

According to military figures, 172 coalition forces were killed in such attacks last year — and far more Afghan civilians died.

In the eastern Logar province, meanwhile, U.S. and Afghan troops called in airstrikes on two groups of militants, killing 13 insurgents Tuesday, the U.S military statement said.

Separately, in the eastern Khost province, a convoy of Afghan and American troops killed the driver of a car when the vehicle did not slow down in response to shouts to stop and warning shots, said Chief Petty Officer Brian Naranjo, a U.S. forces spokesman.

"They fired to stop the vehicle and killed the driver," Naranjo said.

In the south, U.S. forces said they killed eight Taliban fighters in a clash Uruzgan province on Monday. The coalition said two of its troops and three Afghan policemen were wounded during the clash.

They were undergoing medical treatment and were in stable condition. The troops were on patrol when Taliban fighters attacked with small-arms fire and heavy machine-guns.

Southern Afghanistan is the center of the Taliban-led insurgency, where thousands of new American troops will join the fight this year.

President Barack Obama hopes the new troops can turn the tide of the Taliban successes in the last three years.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Emir Dokka Abu Usman tells about the crimes of infidels

Publication time: 14 May 2009, 21:41

This is an English transcript of video ( in which Emir Dokka Abu Usman demonstrates unexploded ordnance from Russian cluster bombs.
I seek refuge in Allah from the accursed Shaytan.
In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the worlds, peace and blessings upon the Prophet, his family, companions and all his followers on the true path till the Day of Judgment.
I, Emir of Mujahideen of Caucasus, want to demonstrate you today the arsenal of "gifts", that are brought by Putin to Caucasus. Putin and his watchdogs in Caucasus are advertising every day through mass media, how they introduce order, how they bring peace to Caucasian peoples.
In two previous recordings on the internet, at the same [site] where this recording will be [posted], you will watch how three long-range bombers drop bombs on outskirts of our villages. After that you will also watch the destructions, that were inflicted by their bombardment. And after that, our Mujahideen are sent by me into those places, in order to collect these remains of their "gifts".
These are ball bombs, they are banned everywhere in the world. This is a ball bomb, it is left after every bombardment, it is Putin's "gift" for the Chechen people. This was collected in the territory of Nokhchicho (AKA Chechnya/Ichkeria), therefore I am elaborating, saying "Chechen people". This is a "gift", which he sends through his watchdog Kafyrov (Kadyrov) to this Chechen people.
These remains of their "gifts" explode instantly upon contact with a human or with hoofs of livestock, and people die and suffer because of it, especially during this time, during this season. Many from the poorest, the lowest section of the Chechen people, who gather ramsons, many times they have been blown up [by these things], and many times they have been suffering from these things. These bombs by themselves are banned by all civilized states in the world.
I am clearly demonstrating you how planes bombed, destruction in forests that is left after their bombardment, entire glades, and how we, Mujahideen, protect our people. These bomblets, remains, are collected by Mujahideen, brought [here], and here are some good specialists, insha'Allah, Allah will grant them Paradise for it, they defuse it, and then we bury it completely, so that it would not harm neither animals, nor [other] fauna, nobody.
Here are all those "gifts", that come to our lands, and all those praises, that are directed to us through television, you can see it. For example, these several bomb[let]s can cause irreparable harm. This single bomb[let] is capable of killing ten people.
So let the people, the society, the so called society, see, with which gifts they have come to these lands and how they are doing it.
And this is the best bomb defusal expert, inshaAllah, a man who is striving for Paradise. Only those men come to us, who want to be in the Paradise. I guess many people, including those watchdogs, who were placed either in Magas, or Grozny, or Gudermes, or Kabarda, or Nalchik, they waste much money on propaganda, on debauched actions, to open clubs, they think why Mujahideen, why youth go to the woods to [join] the Mujahideen? Because people who join us want to be in Paradise. Not for the sake of money, no for the sake of anything else, we don't spread any propaganda...
The youth, inshaAllah, join [us] because this is a path to Paradise, and we chose this path to Paradise together, therefore one who will be alongside us, he, inshaAllah, will be in Paradise. Here is one, inshaAllah, of the inhabitants of the Paradise.
And our last prayer is: praise be to Allah, the Lord of the worlds.
Peace be upon you, mercy of Allah and his blessings.
Kavkaz Center

Al Qaeda in Islamic Maghrib statement on British Hostage

Al-Qaida’s Committee in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM):
“A Communiqué Regarding the British Hostage”
Dated: May 20, 2009
“Thanks due to Allah, and prayer and peace upon Allah's messenger and upon all his family and companions and supporters, and thereafter.” “After the expiration of the period given to Britain by the mujahideen regarding its citizen hostage, and the request of the British negotiator to the mujahideen for an additional time to investigate the file, we declare to public opinion that we will provide an additional final extension estimated 15 days starting on the end of the first time limit. ““And, it is a final chance from the mujahideen to exonerate themselves of Britain's excuses and to exhaust all its delays, and for the British public opinion to know that the mujahideen when they execute their threats next time, their [British people] country will take full responsibility in the continuation of its injustice and violations of the rights of prisoner sheikh Abu Qutadah al- Filisteeny, may Allah release him and his Muslim brothers. “ “We call through this statement the family of the British hostage to pressure their government, and we assure them that this extension will not happen again and it is a valuable and final chance for them and their government before executing the threat, and he who warned shall be excused. “
Al-Qa'eda in Islamic Maghreb

Somalia president condemns foreign invasion

MOGADISHU (AFP) — Somalia's President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed condemned on Monday what he termed as an invasion by foreign fighters as rebels battle to oust him in weeks of clashes that have killed more than 200 people.

The latest round of violence erupted on May 7 when hardline Islamist insurgents launched an offensive against government troops, wounding hundreds and forcing tens of thousands of others to flee.

"Somalia is being invaded by foreign fighters, whose main purpose is to turn the country into an Afghanistan or an Iraq," Sharif said at a rare news conference in his office.

"We call on the international community and the Somali people to help us in fighting against them," he added.

According to Somali security officials and foreign intelligence sources in the region, there are up to 500 foreign jihadist fighters in the troubled country, most of whom arrived over the past few months.

The rebels themselves have admitted to receiving the support of foreign fighters believed to be from Arab, Asian as well as European countries in their latest offensive against Sharif's fledgling administration.

At least 208 people have been killed and 700 wounded by the fighting, Humanitarian Affairs Minister Mohamoud Ibrahim Garweyne said Sunday.

"I can tell you that 80 percent of the people killed and injured are civilians who were caught in the crossfire," Garweyne said.

"The clashes have also displaced 8,367 families, who have reached temporary camps outside the capital where their livelihoods are very precarious," the minister said.

Over the weekend, the United Nations put the number of people displaced by the latest fighting at 57,000.

The rebel push is spearheaded by two armed groups: the Shebab, a hardline military movement with suspected links to Al Qaeda, and Hezb al-Islamiya, a more political group loyal to influential cleric Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys.

The Shebab, the former youth wing of an Islamist movement ousted by Ethiopia-backed Somali government forces in 2007, also claimed Sunday's car bomb at a military camp in the violence-wracked city.

"The attack was carried out by one of our young fighters who detonated his car inside the camp where the enemies of Allah are stationed," Sheikh Hussein Fidow, one of the group's officials, told reporters.

In February, they also claimed the single deadliest suicide attack on a base hosting the Burundi contingent of the AU forces.

The hardliners have rejected peace overtures by the government and even spurned the introduction of sharia (Islamic law) which has been one of their key demands.

In his press conference, Sharif praised what he described as "freedom fighting" by citizens spontaneously rising up against the insurgents.

"We welcome the efforts by Somali freedom fighters in some of the regions to fight against the culprits and the foreign fighters they brought the country," he said.

Ethiopian forces withdrew from Somalia in January, but their pullout caused concerns of a security vacuum and fears that Somalia risked becoming a haven for jihadists affiliated to Al-Qaeda.

Eritrea has been singled out as one African country backing the Somali radicals.

The AU wants UN sanctions on Eritrea, as well as an aerial exclusion zone in Somalia and the blockade of ports and airports to prevent the entry of foreign fighters and weapons shipments.

But Asmara rejected the call, blaming an east African regional grouping, whose sanction call last week was endorsed by the AU, for the chaos in Somalia.

The seaside capital has been ravaged by 18 years of almost uninterrupted civil conflict and hundreds of thousands of people had already fled following Ethiopia's invasion in late 2006.

Pakistani Taliban: We'll avoid combat in Swat city

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Taliban militants will not attack the military in the main town of Pakistan's Swat Valley to avoid triggering battles that would result in civilian casualties and destruction, a militant spokesman said.

The army on Monday hailed the announcement as a sign that the outnumbered militants were "staring defeat in the face."

Elsewhere in the northwest, security forces attacked militant hide-outs in the South Waziristan tribal region after the insurgents lobbed rockets on military camps, intelligence officials said. The violence was prompting many residents to flee.

The army said it secured at least eight major intersections in the main town Mingora and was arresting and killing Taliban fighters. But Swat Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan said the insurgents were not withdrawing and denied his announcement was a call for a cease-fire.

"This is a long war and we will fight it strategically," he told The Associated Press late Sunday from an undisclosed location in the valley. "We will continue fighting until an Islamic system is enforced."

Pakistan began the offensive last month against militants in the northwestern region after they ignored the terms of a cease-fire. Its Western allies, worried the nuclear-armed nation was buckling under the threat of the militants, have hailed the operation.

Close to 1.9 million people have fled the valley and surrounding districts, but up to 20,000 remain in Mingora, where the military entered Saturday after encircling it. Many of the estimated 4,000 militants in the valley are believed to be there, raising the prospect of bloody urban fighting.

A resident on the outskirts of the city said 3,000 people were stranded in his neighborhood and were suffering.

"We do not have anything to eat. We do not have water," said Liaqat Ali. "We do not have medicines. We do not have any doctor or any hospitals to go to."

Pakistan will need at least $1 billion to reconstruct damaged areas and help the displaced resettle once the fighting ends, federal Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira said.

"To send them back home, we have started initial satellite surveys for the rehabilitation of their homes, business and cultivatable lands," he said.

Khan, the militant spokesman, said Taliban fighters would not engage the army in Mingora because "we have seen when the army retaliate for our attacks they always kill civilians. Their attacks always damage public property. We do not want that," he said.

Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said the militants "have started using ploys to escape. They are now remembering the civilians whom they used to behead and decapitate."

He said the operation in the city would go on as planned. Commanders have said they aim to eliminate the militants in the valley and on Friday said any form of cease-fire was highly unlikely.

The military says about 1,100 suspected insurgents have died so far in the offensive. It has not given any tally of civilian deaths, and it's unclear how it is separating noncombatants killed from militants. Residents fleeing the region have reported dozens of ordinary Pakistanis killed in the fight. Journalists have mostly been barred from reporting there.

Most of the refugees are staying with families or friends, but more than 160,000 are in relief camps just south of the battle zone. Some fear the generally broad public support for the military campaign could drain away if the refugees' plight worsens or if the army gets bogged down too long.

In recent days, Pakistani officials have tried to quell rumors of an imminent military offensive in South Waziristan, part of the semiautonomous tribal belt that has long been a magnet for al-Qaida and the Taliban.

Still, troops and insurgents there have fought in recent days.

The latest clashes came after suspected militants lobbed rockets and mortar shells at two military camps in the Khargai Kila and Jundola areas. Troops retaliated with artillery fire in several spots, two intelligence officials told AP.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media on the record.

Many families have begun to flee the region amid the violence and reports of greater military action.

"Bombing has destroyed our homes and shops and we had no choice except to leave the area," said Ahmed Khan Bittani, who was evacuating with his extended family including 10 children.

Associated Press writers Isthiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan and Ashraf Khan in Islamabad contributed to this report.

US Dollar Skids to New Lows, Expect it to Continue

By Jennifer Shotts


May 22, 2009 "The Examiner" -- The mighty US dollar has posted prolific losses against many major currencies that began back in March but have kicked into high gear the past two weeks.  This week so far, the dollar has fallen 4% against the British pound reaching a new low for 2009, 3% against the euro and Japanese yen, and also against the Canadian dollar.  With major price levels being broken, many banks are reevaluating year end predictions for the euro vs. the dollar to reach $1.50 or higher.  Is this going to be the new trend of 2009, dollar's death spiral?  Here's some reasons why many say its time to chuck the buck:

1.  The US Federal Reserve is printing money faster than you can shake a stick at.  It is called quantitative easing and it ain't pretty.  It is the US government's last resort to somehow kick start this economy and it is very controversial.  The turn in the dollar's rise occurred in March when the US announced it would purchase US treasuries to the tune of $300bn.  Since then they continue on the same track, announcing on Wednesday that they will consider additional asset purchases as long as necessary to drag the US out of this economic quagmire.  Meanwhile, the dollar will continue to devalue against all major currencies as long as the US continues this policy.  

2.  Russia has recently made the Euro its reserve currency, over the dollar.  Other countries like China and Brazil have been hinting at doing the same.  A lack of enthusiasm for the US currency has many global leaders calling for a new reserve currency or a basket of currencies to take over for the dollar.  

3.  With the recession and slow economic recovery, the Fed cannot raise interest rates.  The dollar will likely continue its fall until the US is able to raise interest rates again, which most economists agree will not be able to happen until possibly in 2010.  The question remains:  how will the dollar's weakness play out against the other major currencies since this is a global economic meltdown, affecting all countries and currencies?  Will the dollar be the weakest since, so far, the US has been much more aggressive with its quantitative easing measures?

4.  This week investors are beginning to question the dollar's status as a "safe haven", looking to other avenues like gold.  On Thursday the price of gold reached $955/oz up $16, and up $25 so far this week.  Standard and Poor's rating agency warned the UK of a possible downgrading of its AAA status due to its incredibly high debt to GDP ratio, which it said may near 100%.  This caused alarm that the US may be next.  Though most agree that the US's debt ratio is nothing compared to that of the UK or of Japan, which is at 110%, still S&P is expecting the US ratio to reach 77% in the coming years.

The dollar has been the instrument of choice the past 8 months, a safe haven for investors, and surprising some at its apparent strength while stocks slid during the crisis.  If in fact the dollar has lost its luster, where will investors look when risk aversion returns?  For forex trend traders, this is a dream come true.  For overseas exporters, not so much.  The dollar index reached 80.40 today, 79.00 is the next major support, below that the all time low at 74.60.